YEKATERINBURG (Russia) • Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill led some 100,000 people in a night-time procession yesterday to mark 100 years since the Bolsheviks murdered czar Nicholas II and his family, amid a simmering conflict between the state and church over their remains.
The procession began in the early hours of yesterday from the murder site in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg to a monastery commemorating the slain czar, his German-born wife and their five children, the regional authorities said.
Many of the fervent believers came from across Russia and abroad to take part in the colourful ceremony, during which many carried icons.
Another 20,000 people joined the commemorations when the procession arrived at the monastery in Ganina Yama after covering a distance of 21km, the regional authorities said.
The monastery was built at one of the sites where the burnt bodies of the last Russian czar and his family were taken after their execution in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, although they were later moved.
The Bolsheviks shot the abdicated czar, his wife and their five children along with their servants and doctor on the night of July 16/17, 1918, as they were living under guard in the Urals city of Sverdlovsk, now Yekaterinburg.
Addressing the pilgrims, Patriarch Kirill said Russia should draw lessons "from this difficult and bitter experience".
"We truly should have lasting immunity against any ideas and any leaders who call on us to embrace some new, unknown happy future through the destruction of our life, our traditions and our faith," the 71-year-old powerful church leader said in a possible dig at the opposition to President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin planned no official commemoration although officials from the culture and defence ministries were scheduled to take part in a memorial event in Moscow.
The regional authorities said the popularity of the annual event has grown steadily over the past years, adding that just 2,000 people took part in a similar procession in 2002.
The Russian Orthodox Church is still divided over the authenticity of the remains of the family, whose members were all made saints in 2000.
The bones of Nicholas, his wife and three of their children were interred in Saint Petersburg in 1998 but the church refused to give them a full burial service.
The remains of the czar's only son Alexei and his daughter Maria were found separately in 2007 and have never been buried. Their charred remains were kept in the Federal Archives before they were handed to the church in 2015.